28 September 2008

An Outrageous Distortion

Having finally gotten a chance to listen to the Laura Ingraham interview of Nicholas Provenzo, I thought that under the circumstances, Mr. Provenzo did an admirable job articulating his points.  With great determination, he managed to actually complete several sentences, some of them even audible over the voice of Ms. Ingraham.  The popular host of the acclaimed Laura Ingraham Show had the curious habit of stepping upon her guest’s answers almost immediately after having asked him a question, leading one to suspect that her purpose in questioning him was more to bestow upon the undoubtedly friendly audience her own opinion than to elicit his.  Provenzo could not have expected agreement from Ingraham, of course, but as it turned out, he was not shown even the slightest bit of civility.  (Myrhaf and Diana Hsieh wrote good posts on the hostility of Ingraham’s interview.)

This could hardly be otherwise, I suppose.  It cannot really be Laura Ingraham’s job to provide an honest forum for intellectual discovery.  This is show business.  She knows her audience, and it is likely that rudeness and belligerence makes good entertainment when you’re preaching to the choir.  In that setting, Ingraham had every conceivable advantage - or rather, every advantage but one (she was on the wrong side of the argument).  I have no doubt that Ms. Ingraham herself and her faithful listeners imagined that the mighty host was chasing her guest around the ring, had him backed up against the ropes, and was pummeling him alternately with her left jab and right hook - which is to say, with her witty sarcasm and righteous bullying - but a more careful assessment would show that Provenzo stood the whole time more or less calmly in the middle of the ring as Ingraham flailed about him without landing a blow.

Much has been written in the past few days about the vicious attacks on Provenzo’s Rule of Reason article, but I have not yet seen anyone fully address a particular point about the Laura Ingraham interview (and one that appeared in many of the vilest blog comments) that jumped out at me.  I think it is significant that Ms. Ingraham spent much of the interview trying to veer the argument away from abortion per se, even though that was ostensibly its purpose.  It is quite clear that either deliberately or subconsciously, she was trying to blur the distinction between aborting a fetus and killing a person.

Now, I know that sounds like it is stating the obvious; the very thing anti-abortionists insist upon is that a fetus is a person.  But Ingraham, along with the commenters who brought up Nazis, eugenics, etc., are trying to equate defending the right of a woman to abort her fetus with advocating the murder of full-grown adults.  

Notice that right out of the gate, Ms. Ingraham asked Mr. Provenzo for a list of other diabilities (i.e. other than Down’s syndrome) that he would consider to “qualify for preemptive abortion.”  When he refused to cooperate with this tack, she began to question him with her own list, which, as was made apparent through her repetition of it, had only one infirmity that she was interested in: Alzheimer’s disease.  

Alzheimer’s disease?  Alzheimer’s disease is a terrible and tragic malady that afflicts old people.  What is Ingraham’s logic here?  Does one test a fetus for Alzheimer’s disease?  I suppose it’s conceivable that certain tests could be developed to help predict if the fetus might someday suffer from this ailment some eighty years after it is born, but that’s an incredible stretch.  Doctors have trouble diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease in adults, never mind in fetuses.  Of all the calculations and decisions prospective parents must make to ensure that they are prepared to bring up a child responsibly, Alzheimer’s disease is about the very last consideration.  It makes no sense whatsoever to bring it up.  Ingraham could not have chosen a more irrelevant infirmity unless - unless - she were hinting at something else entirely.  If she were trying to conflate abortion with the monstrous idea that old people should be put to death when they are no longer “productive members of society,” then Alzheimer’s disease is the perfect example for Ms. Ingraham to introduce.  It subtly calls to mind eugenics and the Nazi policies of racial purification and extermination, which are evil and are utterly condemned by Objectivism and by all rational people.

If there were any doubts about her intentions on this front, Ms. Ingraham settled them when she said, “I can remember a lot in the media that I worked with that were ‘marginally productive’ but I wouldn’t say that they should be killed.”  Then later, “What stops you from killing those unproductive members of society who are languishing in old folks’ homes or in other areas where they have no productive role?

If you had your way, Nicholas, all these people would be done away with, right?

People?!  This is outrageous.  This vicious - and among other things, wholly illogical - distortion, which was central to some of the most hateful comments on Provenzo’s blog, must be exposed and refuted now and forever.  There will always be some people beyond the reaches of reason, of course, but I cannot bear to let a single person who is at least semi-rational walk away with the idea that there is an iota of truth in this.  Even if a reader does not agree with the Objectivist argument for the morality of abortion, he must understand that there can be no greater defender of every individual human being, from first to last breath, than an Objectivist.  For the very reasons a rational person would defend a woman’s right to abort her fetus, he would staunchly defend her right to give birth to her child, whether or not he agreed with those reasons.  Above all, there is not an inkling of reason to link the defense of this right to a support of eugenic murder; indeed, Objectivism stands as the only consistent philosophical defense against such monstrosities.

Ingraham’s line of questioning (not to mention many of the blog comments) indicates that she sees murder and extermination as a logical consequence of Provenzo’s position.  This makes no sense; in fact, the shoe is quite on the other foot.  

An Objectivist holds that every individual is a sovereign being that owns his own life.  To live, he must be left free to judge and act as he sees fit, provided that he does not initiate force against others (i.e. because that would violate their freedom to think and act).  The sole purpose of a proper government is to safeguard this freedom.  Period.

The very notions of eugenics, racial purification, extermination of the weak, or any of the national, tribal, or religious variants of the same are rooted in collectivism.  In every case, the justification for such heinous acts is: the sacrifice of the one for the many.  Or in one word: altruism.  Altruism is unfortunately at the heart of virtually all the philosophical and political discourse in the world today, both on the left and on the right.  Historically, it underpins the religious tyrannies (from the Inquisition to Islamofascism) and the “secular” tyrannies (such as Nazism and communism).  Grimly, however, it is not merely totalitarian monstrosities that exhibit this selflessness.  Altruism dominates the day-to-day discourse in what remains of the civilized world; it is no less apparent in the modern welfare state as it was in Nazi Germany, no less dangerous for being latent.  Objectivism stands alone among philosophies to reject altruism, to defend every person’s right to his own life, and to condemn the self-sacrifice that makes the extermination of human beings possible.

If logic is to be applied, one can see that however much anti-abortionists would reject the conclusions, it is their premises - not Mr. Provenzo’s - that can unleash the collectivist horrors of “killing the unproductive members of society.”  Naturally, they do not recognize this, for some may be good people who would shudder at the conclusions.  I think that many so-called “pro-life” advocates sincerely believe that their defense of “fetus rights” is part and parcel of safeguarding the sanctity of actual human life.  

But in fact the opposite is achieved.  It’s a simple equation.  If a cluster of cells inside a woman’s body is to be treated as an actual person, then it is a short jump to conclude that a person is to be treated as a mere cluster of cells.  In other words, the attempt to elevate the status of a fetus to that of a person has this as a corollary: it simultaneously reduces the status of a person to that of a fetus.  It does little good to stamp one’s foot and scream, “But I don’t mean this!”  If one marries this premise with altruism and collectivism - with the notion that “there is something greater than the individual,” be it a God or an ethnic group or a nation - then the evils follow freely.  With altruism as the defining principle of society, individuals may be disposed of for the alleged benefit of the group (the nation, “society,” etc.), and this is only made easier if humans have been relegated to the status of a clump of cells.  It is from this position - this allegedly “pro-life” position - that one could easily find a pretext for eugenics, notwithstanding the protests of its adherents.


john said...

Stephen, your clear writing and determination to make the point that Objectivism is the only philosophy that can truly stand up to the embedded altruism is beautifully executed.

The altruists love to paint pictures which include as a fait acompli that abortion is killing people. We should paint pictures back of citizens obtaining needed abortions as murderers. "When you make abortion a crime and a couple goes to XXX country to obtain a needed abortion, will they be arrested at LAX upon returning as murderers?" or how about "If a fetus is a person, and a woman finds out that a 2-week-old person has invaded her womb uninvited which could kill her, can't she kill it in self-defense?"

John Donohue
Pasadena, CA

Stephen Bourque said...

Thanks for the comment, John. Diana Hsieh had an interesting post along those lines a while back. In the YouTube video she linked to in the article, several anti-abortion activists answer similar questions that seem to take them by surprise.